What Cartridge Alignment/Set-Up Tools are you Using?

I recently acquired a new turntable and tone arm (VPI Avenger/Kuzma 4pt-11) included in the purchase was an Acoustical Systems SMARTracktor and Smart Stylus. Tools which I have not previously used

I first set-up my cart (Dynavector XX2 MKII) using the supplied protractor and mounting distance template from Kuzma and setting VTA and azimuth by ear/eye and tracking force in the middle of the range recommended by Dynavector (2.0g)

I set the gain (SPP) on medium and loaded the cart @ 30 ohms per DV recommendation (which was too low for my taste and ended up at 200 ohms) Overall it sounded good but not great, I tweaked VTA a bit which helped smooth out the top a little but did not correct the low end issues which remained a little “muddy” not tight and punchy, which I believe we all desire

I then started from scratch with the SMARTracktor and found the mounting distance and the pivot to spindle distance measured short by 2mm which, when corrected forced a change to alignment, overhang, etc. Set VTA and azimuth using the smart stylus tool, which is intended only to get you close, then tweaked VTA by ear and re-set tracking force to 2.0g using Loefgren B tangential curve as it seems the most common. Acoustical Systems recommends their own UNI-DIN curve which I may try down the road

The set-up with the SMARTracktor produced much improved overall performance to my ear. Improved dynamics, with a punchy bottom end and smooth treble. Gain adjustment remained on medium with loading re-set to 100 ohms which sounded best to me (thanks @DarrenMyers for the on the fly gain and loading features on the SPP)

This all has me wondering if trying cartridge set-up software with test discs (Analog Magik) would produce even better results, I have a local dealer with the software but disassembling the rig and bringing in to him would be a huge PITA. Not sure if it would be worth the effort and expense. $220-$450 depending on weather I brought everything to him or he came to my house for a complete set-up and tuning

So, long story for a short question…What tools are you using to dial in your arms/carts? has anyone used cartridge set-up software with positive results?

I am by no means an expert and I may be over thinking and over complicating things…

Thanks in advance for any comments and advice!


The Acoustical Systems is the best you can get and you will see, the only one that can work.

When you start finding direction with help of the laser printed lines and use the mirrored lines to ensue you have the correct eye/head position, you will recognize, that any other template without mirrored lines is quite useless because you most probably will be wrong.

Smartstylus then is a great help to get azimuth right by eye (orientated on cantilever, not housing). For setting SRA with it, it depends how exactly you know the mounting of your stylus on the cantilever as well as the stylus’ shape and contact line if it can be helpful there.

I also thought about the analogmagic SW and talked to several experienced folks. Result was, there are so many variables in the measuring processes, that it doesn’t nessarily make things really safer and more exact, and it takes a lot of time, patience and accuracy. For azimuth I use a cheaper measurement option I partly had anyway for FR measurements.

Thank You!
I found the smartractor easy to use and very precise the smart stylus was a little more “rough” and I imagine the azimuth could be off by quite a bit but I feel I’m close. I don’t hear a channel imbalance but also don’t want to put undo stress or premature wear on the cart

Great point on setting azimuth on the cantilever as opposed to the cartridge body, I’ll check it again, your eye is naturally drawn to the body of the cartridge…


The XX2 Mk2 is a breeze to set up, I have one, unlike my Koetsu Urushi as you can’t see what’s going on.

I use a Dr F alignment tool, had it for years, but then neither of my arms require Azimuth adjustment, being dual pivot and factory set. I also use a $20 lined perplex block for VTA, which I can adjust on the fly.

I also have the Rega Atlas electronic balance - a complete extravagance.

Use the AS magnifier when aligning the cantilever with the Smartstylus

Old school here. I haven’t done a set up in forever, but still have my Dennison protractor should I need a replacement for my cartridge. I’m sure there’s been a world of “improved” devices come out over the years.

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I have an SME arm so find the MintLP protractor works best although it does require measurement of mounting hole to stylus in order to be accurate.

So custom for a given turntable/arm combination? Interesting!

I have a SME 309 tonearm. I just use the SME supplied alignment tool. For azimuth and arm height I use a mirror I broke out of a woman’s compact I bought at Walgreens. I also have a 30X LED loupe I use for fine alignment, that is when I can get it within its very short focal distance of the cantilever and stylus. Tricky and not easy on the nerves. In the end it’s all ear for final alignment with my trusty AP Ultimate Analogue Test LP (although I never use it for setting anti-skate, that’s a topic worth its own thread). It helps to have been spinning vinyl for upwards of 40 years with a ton of experience aligning cartridges.

JP, I’ll just add to what @jazznut has said. I also have an Avenger and just about every alignment jig known to man, including the SMARTractor. That, the Feickert, and maybe the Clearaudio are the only ones that IME can be effectively used to check P2S distance. Now, the VPI jig is a bit non-standard. It’s set up to do a Stephenson (or close to it) alignment, as Harry Weisfeld prefers that for the lower inner groove distortion - he plays a lot of classical symphonies where the music often goes practically to the run out area of the disk. Since your P2S was off, it’s hard to say just what your setup would have sounded like using the VPI jig, had it been correct.

As to ANALOGMagik, it’s a very interesting tool. I use it, but it has a bit of a learning curve. Worth the money? Depends… depends. Some folks can do a near perfect setup by alignment jig and ear. I’ve often seen Harry swap carts into an arm like he was flipping burgers on a grill, and they sound perfect inside of literally (I timed it one when he installed an Atlas) 5 minutes. Others will get caught in the trap of using something like AM and feel like they’ll never get a cart aligned properly, since every time you breathe the second decimal place number changes. So it all comes down to personal choices. In my early months with AM I fell into the trap I described, until I realized that I was better off getting “close enough” with the numbers and doing final tweaks - in my case especially anti-skate - by ear. I haven’t regretting buying AM, but I don’t let it tell me when the cart is set up properly. OTOH I have friends on the VPI forum who’ve learned to use AM like surgeons using a scalpel. I’m just not willing to go that far, I guess.

Oh, if you don’t want to spring for AM, Feickert’s Adjust Plus+ is not a bad alternative. Not as overwhelming, but also a bit limited by comparison in what it can do.

Another ‘oh’. I agree with @owlsalum - never use Ultimate Analog to set AS. Use an album that is known as being sensitive to skating.

Thanks (everyone) for all of this information, I and hopefully others are getting an education from those more experienced!

Question - Do you set the P2S distance as step one? I noticed on the SMARTracktor
video series the align the cart the set the P2S? I found this curious


I always insure P2S is correct before aligning the cart.